Pitruyajna – A Thought!
For several years, every day, we used to have an unusual ritual take place at our Vile Parle home around 630 in the evening. One of Nana’s (my father) friends, we all called him “Kaka” (uncle), would come home walking brisk, with his signature long umbrella hooked on to his shirt collar. It hung on his back just like those unpleasant thoughts, helpless and hopeless at the same time. Even if Nana was not at home, he would come in and sit. Sometimes, Aai used to be alone; he would still sit and talk to her. Sometimes, no one would be at home, except me, he would still come in and chat with me. If the door was locked, he would talk to my uncle next door or to my friend on the other side. Regardless of the season, his daily ritual was executed. He had to come home and talk. It was decided. Probably, it was his need.
Whenever he would come in, he would sit for just about 15-20 minutes. He would talk non-stop on a variety of subjects. Our attention or lack of it made no difference to him. He used to talk as if it was a need he had to fulfill. Sometimes, while chatting away to glory, he would inhale Snuff 3-4 times. At times, he would talk excitedly and at others, he would be sober. At times, he would sound low. You know the speed at which he would walk and come in to our home, was usually the speed with which he would go away every day as well. Every single day, this tornado called “Uncle” would visit us. If he did not show up for a day, we would call him at his home in the evening to check on him. For us, his visit to our home was as natural as a sunrise and a sunset.
This routine was a permanent feature in our lives and continued until he breathed his last. Even if we offered, Uncle would never have tea, coffee, or juice at home with us. Let alone snacks, for that matter, I don’t think he even had a glass of water ever at our home. He would, typically, have many topics to talk about. He would talk about his office (of course, he was retired). He would fondly talk about his daughter-in-law and son. He would sulk about his wife and her idiosyncrasies. He would tell us about his grandson with a twinkle in his eyes. Essentially, he would regurgitate everything that he would have in his mind. For “Kaka,” visiting our place and talking to us was ‘Unloading his emotional baggage” ritual. I am sure; it was therapeutic for him to do that. In all of us, he had found a listener.
The speed, at which he would come home, was exactly the speed at which he left us for heavenly abode. One day, he simply dropped dead in a matter of few seconds. The incident took place just a couple of days prior to our relocation to Bangalore. Even today, after almost 22 years, I remember him because his “Loneliness” still stares back at me. You know, for that matter, even though he never discussed his loneliness with us explicitly, his meaningless existence has haunted me. The hollow I sensed in his heart is like a raw wound that get scratched each time I see a senior citizen. The magnitude of his loneliness and his vacant feeling were so huge that he did not seem to have any other way but to express it to someone. For whatever reason, all of us at home including my neighbors were sensitive to his needs. We simply understood! Therefore, for ‘Kaka,” a sure way of feeling light was to come home to our place and rattle things out the way they flowed from his heart and from his head. One of the reasons behind narrating this is the fact that way back in 2004, when I first read a passage about “Sraddha” and “Tarpan”; I paused for a long time; I thought of “Kaka” and many such people. I vividly remember the suffocation and the upheaval it caused me thinking about the plight of senior citizens. It enumerated an immensely deep thought about the treatment many senior citizens get in our country, for that matter across the globe.
After reading that I realized the significance and the magnitude of people’s experiences and their feelings. I also felt that at a time when Nana was actively involved with issues of senior citizens in our society, their plight was no different from the plight of senior citizens today. A decade and a half has passed by but we see the situation of Senior Citizens deteriorating. Does it mean then that the younger generation’s thoughts and feelings around this issue are also deteriorating? Probably yes! A young, blinded person like me felt suddenly more enlightened after reading that passage. Since childhood, I had grown up looking at ‘Death,” “Funeral,” and the “Post Death Rituals” in a slightly weird way. Those never made any sense to me. The passage explained the meaning of “Sraddha” in such simple and lucid words. It said,”Sraddha means satisfying with love and seva, our elders, during their lifetime.”
In general, now a day, we observe that the issues of senior citizens are on the rise. There is a huge gap between the way today’s young generation thinks and the behavior that their parents expect from their children. In today’s day and age, the younger generation has just got sucked away by various seductions life has to offer to them. They have almost forgotten to pay attention to people’s feelings, emotions while chasing money, material comforts and their respective careers. They neither have the time nor the inclination and interest to pay attention to their parent’s emotional, intellectual and material needs. Needless to say, there are exceptions to this reality.
On the other side, one cannot rule out the fact that there is cut throat competition all around them. In order to survive and come out a winner, they do not seem to have any other alternative but to chase these things harder, stronger and more vehemently than their elders did during their sunny days. I never have refuted the fact that the younger generation needs to do all this. I think they definitely need to pay attention to their sense of competitiveness and that is the appropriate thing to do. However, it is equally, if not more important to pay attention to their aging parents and their emotional, financial or familial desires. Everything has a threshold. There needs to exist congruence between a young person’s aspirations and the needs of an aging family member, especially, in today’s modern families.
Around a year and half ago, one of our relatives suddenly passed away. The man was almost 75 years old. He has two sons who are almost nearing their 50 years. While the sons appeared to have got along with their father well, we all knew that they had deep disconnects with their father leading to a big distance between the two. Both the sons would hardly find any time to talk to their father on a day-to-day basis. However, when this person passed away, the sons performed all the rituals on a grand scale. They invited around 300 people to come and have a sumptuous meal at the end of those rituals. Now, that seemed odd to many who knew that the sons were not all that close to their father. I, for one, wondered, what prompted these sons to do everything on such a large scale. It was unwarranted for sure!
The passage I read said that if one desires to do all these rituals, one must do them because they are meant to bring the relatives of the deceased some peace. He says that one must understand the motives behind doing these rituals and once one knows the intent then one must get them accomplished. He says one must pay attention to the sentiments with which one is supposed to perform these rituals. It further stated that one should not do them by fearing the likes of Ghosts or perform them under severe pressure to exhibit one’s love towards the departed soul. It stated that, “Keep in mind that all the ancient sacred religious texts say that the deeds decide the course that the soul will take.” All it means is that whatever we might choose to do and that too at whatever scale, the deceased person’s further course of journey is not dependent on these rituals. They are solely dependent on one's own Karma. It mentioned later that, “The Pitruyajna is serving elders such as parent, grandparents during their lifetime. Sraddha and Tarpana are the two types of Pitruyajna.”
Every year on Nana’s death anniversary, we all go to a home for the aged, we serve them lunch, we spend some time with them and we talk to them about their experiences. Sometimes we hear stories of how a son abandoned his own mother after taking in all the requisite signatures to transfer the property after the father’s demise. We hear about how the son then left his mother in the middle of the night on an isolated road. When I hear such stories, I live few hours in utter shock and disbelief. And every year when I meet a new bruised person, I somehow stop believing in all those relationships. I reiterate to myself that relationships are purely of the heart. They have to be felt and they have to be nurtured. They have to be raised just like we raise children. I wonder if these children who abandon their parents ever think about their own old age. I wonder if they ever think what would happen to them if their children were to abandon them. These acts are so inhuman that the ones who get abandoned probably die a thousand deaths for several months post the incident. In that passage it is further mentioned that,”Tarpana implies conducting oneself in a manner that will do the parents proud, make them happy that they gave birth to virtuous human beings.” Every son/daughter must hold this passage close to one’s chest as each one carries on living one’s life.
I also feel that in our country, especially in the kind of society we live in, we are raised by many people. Parents go to work, requesting a neighbor to look after their child. It’s a common phenomenon in India, especially, in a city like Mumbai. Sometimes, they are neighbors. At other times, our relatives and seldom, someone who is not even remotely connected to us raises us. Many people play the role of a parent. They love us just like our parents do! They imbibe values in us and they help us inculcate many good traits and habits. For all practical purposes, they remain our parents. Whenever I read this passage, I always think about all those innumerable people who have parented me all through my life. I, strongly, feel that this passage and the meaning of “Tarpan” should not be limited to our biological parents. It must be applied to all those who become our parents as we traverse through the journey of our lives.
In this passage, look at how beautifully “Tarpan” is explained! It says that children should do acts that will make one’s parents feel proud of their child’s accomplishments. They ought to feel proud that they gave birth to such able and accomplished children. However, in today’s times, it is very difficult for us to even respect and love our parents unconditionally. We see many children today, who disrespect their parents immensely. They do not talk to them with respect and do not treat them with dignity. Let alone respecting them, they do not even say few words of compassion and love. Distant is then the dream of doing acts that would make every parent feel proud that they gave birth to a fine human being!
Therefore,” Above all, love your parents when they are alive, try to keep them happy. That alone is real Sraddha, do not worry about any other.” How appealing this thought is! Honestly, every youth must read this passage. What is the point just reading it if it does not get internalized and practiced? Our parents must be revered. In this life full of varied seductions, it is imperative to keep this thought on top of one’s mind, would you not agree?
Usually, most children do respect their parents. However, there are far too many distractions that exist in today’s world. Someone runs after career, someone runs after money, someone runs after fulfilling one’s dream, someone wants fame. They seldom realize that these things are like substance abuse, one easily gets hooked on to these things. Some of us run behind materialistic things and some of us put all our energy behind achieving bigger goals at a faster pace. None of these things, per se, are wrong. Sure, one needs to think about one’s progress but not at the cost of something equally important in life. One must remember that there is no end to desire! It is entirely up to us to change the course of our actions. It is a choice one has to make while taking on this journey called life. It is important to know that at any given point in time, there will be few people ahead of us and there would be many behind us. An individual’s perspective should drive one’s actions while conducting one’s life. Therefore, balance is important in deciding one’s course of action.
Serving one’s parents does not merely mean that one has to fulfill all their needs during their golden years. It also includes activities such as spending time with them, speaking few words of love with them. It also means providing them with emotional and familial support during their golden years. Even if one is engrossed in one’s life and work, doing these trivial things, listening to their words of wisdom (even if one does not accept those) is equally pertinent and important. Such acts restore and reassure warm feelings in others.
Whenever I talked to members of an institution for retired people called “Sobati” (meaning companion), I experienced this tremendous emotional upheaval just observing, sensing their emotionally drained lives. Many of those thoughts that these senior citizens expressed to me are still quite fresh and vivid in my mind. One of the gentlemen had said that as people grow old, their lives become that much more complicated. The time is changing and he said that he resonated with that. However, his point was driven very differently. He said if older people in a family feel isolated and abandoned, physically as well as emotionally then something ought to be wrong in a familial setting. He questioned the ownership of such an issue. While he also said that every coin has two sides (he meant parents need to understand as well), his point was accurate in its own way.
We must think about many such issues surrounding similar topics. I think that each set of parents sacrifice many things as they raise children. Many of them let go of their desires to fulfill their children’s dreams, sometime parents curb their desires before they give us the luxuries of life. During their golden period, if children do not pay attention to them, that must be feeling terribly bad somewhere, right? Each one of us ought to ask if we would like to be treated that way when we grew old. People forget reciprocity towards their parents. I think this is a matter to be mulled over. Let us all think about this and let us make changes in the way we behave and treat parental figures around us. In this passage at the end, the author has articulated a thought. I am sure this thought would appeal to each one of us. Let us take a look at that. He says:
”So, do not get caught in rites and rituals after the death of your close ones.
You should instead, do the Namsmarana, reach out to God with all your love and faith, fix a day in memory of the person you have lost and do it, feed the poor and needy, give to the less fortunate and not those who can very well take care of themselves.
Above all, love your parents when they are alive, try to keep them happy. That alone is real Sraddha; do not worry about any other.”